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Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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More Historic Beijing Buildings Endangered?

The ongoing loss of old courtyard houses as developers continue to demolish hutong neighborhoods in the Old City of Beijing is well known. But we at CHP are also vigilant about the loss of more recent buildings that have architectural distinctiveness and are also part of Beijing’s heritage.
 
Recently we have discovered plans to demolish two Beijing landmarks, well known to anyone who has driven down Chang An Avenue, that date from the 1950s.  These are the two original Foreign Trade Department buildings designed by Xu Zhong and constructed in 1954. They are situated not far from Tian An Men Square on the south side of Chang An Avenue, opposite the Oriental Plaza.
 
In the early years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a group of architects sought to embody the artistry and style of the Chinese people in their contemporary architectural designs.  The result was the construction of buildings that incorporated  regional and traditional elements. The two most outstanding examples of this effort dating from the 1950s are Shanghai’s Memorial Hall of Lu Xun and the Foreign Trade Bureau of Beijing.

Xu Zhong, who designed the Foreign Trade Bureau buildings, was born in 1912 in Jiangsu. He graduated from the Faculty of Architecture of Central University in 1937, and earned a Master’s Degree in architecture from the University of Illinois. Returning to China in 1939, he taught at Central University and the University of Nanjing. In addition to a number of buildings that he designed on his own, he was part of the design team for the People’s Hero Monument, the Great Hall of the People, and the Beijing Library before his death in 1985.
 
The Foreign Trade Buildings on Chang An Avenue are inspired by the traditional architecture of northern China. They use gray brick and tiles, curved roof lines, out-reaching eaves, traditional balustrades, and pure lines to create a modern building for public administrative use. This adaptation of traditional architectural forms – preserving the spirit of China’s indigenous architectural tradition but using it in a modern context – resulted in an elegant and distinctive building that is a great contribution to the grandness of Chang An Avenue, and is also a significant part of China’s architectural heritage. The contrast of this tasteful building with the Hong Kong inspired commercial buildings of Oriental Plaza across the street could not be more striking.
 
Now Xu Zhong’s beautiful buildings are threatened with demolition, not to be replaced by a developer’s real estate project, but simply to make space in front of the Ministry of Commerce’s skyscraper headquarters immediately to its rear. To tear down two such exquisite buildings in order to have a clearer view of yet another bland glass and steel skyscraper, indistinguishable from any other skyscraper, does not make sense.
 
We call on the Minister of Commerce and the planning authorities of Beijing to reconsider this most unfortunate plan. Leave Xu Zhong’s elegant buildings to be the cultured and tasteful “face” of the Ministry of Commerce, and to provide a touch of elegance to Chang An Avenue.
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